What is our story?
Like any business owner, it’s not uncommon for me to be asked about my business journey, and because I’m also a PR consultant, I’m always asked why I don’t ‘PR myself’. But the truth is, I’ve just never felt comfortable opening up.
It doesn’t come naturally to me to put myself out there, in an unguarded way, and potentially open myself up to criticism.
But, both PR and Empire House are businesses that revolve around lifting other people up and giving others a platform to thrive, so I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t start to share more.
For that reason, I’ve openly published our vision and the promises that, as a team, we created in our recent strategy day.
But here, I go a bit more in-depth about my why/my higher purpose, and the challenges we’ve faced along the way…
We bought the building in October 2019 and immediately set about bringing it back to life. The renovation of Empire House itself was not easy.
I had a strong vision about what I wanted it to look like. I am a complete perfectionist and, as a young woman, I found it difficult to persuade time-aged tradespeople, who are brilliant at what they do, to change their ‘normal’ way of doing things and do it my way. I always had the vision in the back of my head, driving me forward. I can understand it probably looked like ‘ego’ to these incredibly experienced tradespeople, many who just didn’t share the same vision.
In fact, most of them hated working at Empire House – and they weren’t afraid to tell me so. A) because it wasn’t a run of the mill job that they could do in their sleep and b) because their ‘client’ (me) was totally uncompromising, even though I was learning on the job.
There were many ‘functional disagreements’.
However, I was lucky that a few of them appreciated what I was trying to achieve and came on the journey with me, having my back and teaching me along the way. It’s probably thanks to them that I didn’t have a nervous breakdown.
Of course, the pandemic hit and that in itself brought new challenges. Our opening was delayed three times, meaning we had no revenue streams, and we weren’t eligible for any COVID support. We had neighbour complaints about the renovation work – which led to a visit from Environmental Health – and we came up against tough opposition when we applied for our alcohol license.
Then, we were then slapped with a £15k bill for business rates for the period that the building was sat, half renovated, with no income (because of COVID).
We had a handful of local people who didn’t want us to exist. And COVID was putting a dampener on our expected income, whilst having staff to pay. Nothing came our way easily, and everything was a fight.
We had staff who came and went – for various reasons.
And personally, I had burnt out, mentally, physically – to the point my hair fell out. Running two businesses, with long COVID, travelling 2 hours to work every day – I didn’t know I could be pushed to such a limit.
Then, our launch party was a huge success. Everyone started talking about Empire House. Members started signing up, our offices filled quickly. We had so much positive feedback. (And my hair grew back!). Slowly but surely, it all came together.
Fast-forward to today, and our memberships are growing every week. Our boardroom is regularly used by some of the region’s most successful businesses. We host events that directors genuinely enjoy. And we are in the process of launching sector-specific networks, for property, tech and manufacturing.
And I have the best team. Ashleigh and Rebecca are the face of our business – they are incredible with members, getting to know them personally. Jess joined us a month ago, and she is very well-connected – she’s here to help us achieve our growth plans. Everything is falling into place, and I truly believe it’s because of the strong vision from the start.
When things got tough, our vision and passion never wavered.
We are genuinely passionate, because our ‘product’ is genuinely beneficial – our memberships support people who have become isolated; they give new businesses a platform; they help MDs/CEOs to get the space they need – all whilst creating a collaborative network where people do business with each other and gain advice from one and other.
I believe it’s easy to sell something when you know that potential clients will benefit from it and that it delivers – there’s no room for empty promises as our whole business relies on our reputation.
We have tailored our memberships to what business owners actually need. They no longer want to stand up for 60-seconds to introduce themselves at a networking event. They want the experience to feel special. Sometimes they want to dress casually, and sometimes they want to dress up for the occasion.
They want to create lasting connections. They want to be introduced to people who they have a genuine interest in. They want a return on their investment. And I believe that’s what makes us stand out.
Don’t get me wrong, we are not a WeWork that runs like a perfectly oiled machine. I didn’t have the experience to know all the intricacies of running a coworking space. Sometimes we miss a trick, and sometimes something will go wrong – as with any old building. Like the day the boarded-over air raid shelter underneath the building caused a huge leak.
But we do put the customer first in everything we do. We are genuine and authentic. We make no short-term decisions. This means that EH has soul, personality and as many people tell me, there’s something about the place that you just can’t put your finger on.
We have had incredible moments, and of course the journey has not been easy, but we’ve also faced the hard moments, had resolve, dug deep, never given up and kept going.
What I’ve learnt is that building a business is like pushing a heavy ball uphill. It takes momentous effort to get going and to get to the top. We’re currently at the brow of the hill; 2022 is about coming down the other side.
It is such an exciting time at Empire House. We have so many plans to support our members this year and we’re so grateful to our members for coming along the journey with us – and for showing us the way!
Thankfully the tradespeople forgave me and I hope I can convince them to do ‘Empire House 2.0’ with me when the time comes.